The eight planes and their pilots, supported by a ground crew of 130 people, return to Cleveland after a year away.
Among them is the #3 pilot, Ohio native Major Jake Impellozzeri
“I grew up in Anderson Township, so a little township in Cincinnati, Ohio, not too far from the Kentucky Border,” said Impellozzeri, whose dad piloted a C-130 in the Air Force and would take him to the Dayton Air Show as a kid.
“I grew up going to the Dayton Air Show every year. The Blue Angels and Thunderbirds would swap out every other year and I remember being a little kid looking up at all the fighter jets being like, ‘that’s what I want to do,'” said Impellozzeri.
Just last month, he had the chance to fly the same air show he watched as a child.
“I had to take a step back, you know, looking down at all the little kids and adults and everybody looking up at the demonstration. That was me, 10 or 15 years ago, and to actually be there in the sky flying over my hometown, my home state was awesome. It was cool and my whole family is coming out to this (Cleveland) show again,” he said.
The Thunderbird pilots are considered among the elite in the Air Force. They are commanded by Col. Justin Elliott in the #1 plane.
“It’s the honor of a lifetime, especially in year 70 for the team, being Thunderbird one is a special thing. You get the opportunity to take care of 130 people that are flying red, white and blue fighter jets and representing that beacon of excellence in the name of human achievement and service to something bigger than ourselves,” said Elliott.
Both are flying the Cleveland National Air Show for the first time.
“For Cleveland, we are very excited to be here. Your city is gorgeous. Got to take a look at it today sitting on the waterfront with large buildings, its going to be an absolute blast maneuvering these fighter jets and flying red, white and blue for you this weekend,” said Elliott.
“I get tingles. Very, very exciting. A lot of hard work all year around to build up to these arrival days, it’s so exciting,” said Kim Dell, executive director of the Cleveland National Air Show as she watched the Thunderbirds’ impressive arrival at Cleveland Hopkins Airport near the I-X Center.
“Everybody thinks you just call up the jet teams and say ‘come on over.’ That’s not how it works. Every air show out there in the United States has to fill out a 25-35 Department of Defense form. You submit that, it goes all the way up the chain of command. We are actually filling out forms for 2025,” said Dell.
“Our theme this year is ‘go vertical,’ so we have the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor. We have the F-18 Super Hornet. We’ve got the harrier demonstration, which takes off and lands vertically and then inside the show grounds we have static display planes. We have the C-5 Galaxy, which is the tallest airplane in the Air Force inventory. It’s 64 feet tall and you will be able to walk through it, meet the pilots and get up close,” said Dell.
The show will also feature numerous static and aerobatic displays as well as the United States Army Golden Knights Parachute Team.
The Thunderbirds are expected to perform each day of the three-day Cleveland Air Show.
They come prepared with three different shows — a high show, a low show and a flat show which they will perform depending on the weather.
The pilots perform in more than 70 shows during the summer months through November, then start immediately training for the next season.
They say they too are impressed by their own precision maneuvers and although they never get old, they also say they are always on their toes.
“It’s still nerve wracking. Every time I strap in the F-16, especially performing in front of a crowd, it’s nervous. It’s a dangerous job we do, but we are so well-trained and this is our profession, this is what we do and we are pretty dang good at it,” said Impellozzeri.